Aubrey Brooks awarded Australia Day honours for preserving the history of Newcastle's steelworks

Steely: Aubrey Brooks. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Steely: Aubrey Brooks. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

AUBREY Brooks has been a custodian of the stories of the steelworks ever since BHP formally closed in Newcastle in 1999.

Now, his efforts and passion for preserving such a big piece of Newcastle's history - as well as teaching "thousands" of Hunter children martial arts - has landed Mr Brooks an Order of Australia for his service.

"This award goes out to the men and women of steel and their great history in Newcastle," he said. "I am only a storyteller of their great work to build this wonderful city we know today."

Mr Brooks said tomorrow was "built on yesterday".

"There is no doubt in my mind that after the BHP closure Newcastle improved, and we now have a different culture... But we must never forget the work the men and women of steel put into this great city," he said.

"This city was built on BHP."

For 15 years, the former vice-president and long standing member of the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association organised the annual BHP reunion.

Mr Brooks, a former Sensei at Cardiff Karate Club and Rembukan Karate, said he had taught Hunter children to "train their hearts and body for a firm, unshaking spirit" via the martial art from 1965.

Through karate, Mr Brooks said he had been invited to dine with Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and he had been part of a demonstration for Queen Elizabeth II.

He was also awarded a Silver Jubilee Award in 1983, and met martial artist, actor, film producer and screenwriter Chuck Norris during a karate exhibition with Sensei Morio Higaonna at the Sydney Opera House.

But keeping the stories, the memories and the history of the steelworks alive became one of his biggest priorities following BHP's closure. In 2014, Mr Brooks received the NSW Government Heritage Award for his efforts.

Mr Brooks, his grandfather, his father, and his brother collectively worked at BHP for more than 125 years. He said many people had lost their lives while working at Newcastle's steelworks.

"It's the same as building a big building - the most important part is the foundation," he said.

"If you don't have a good foundation, it will fall down. That's why our past is so important. We need to remember the past and the hardships people went through to build our great town, and a great town it is."

This story Brooks sets legacy in steel first appeared on Newcastle Herald.